Exhibition Catalogue No.6

KOFUN (Tumulus Graves) in Asuka Period

 For more than a century, from the end of the 6th to the beginning of the 8th century A.D., Asuka (飛鳥) was the administrative and cultural center of Japan. The ruling class, centering arround an emperor or empress, had made efforts to establish a legally regurated, centralized government and had constructed imperial residences subsequently in this region. These residences gradually came to have the function of a place for political and ceremonial activities, and grew up into palaces. Palaces were moved with each change of reign, but they never went out of this region, present-day Asuka (明日香) village, Nara prefecture.

 It was during this “Asuka” Period that a relatively unified nation-state with stronger political system was for the first time established in Japan and that the ruling class tried to adopt much of the matured cultures and advanced institutions from Three Kingdoms Korea (Paekche, Silla and Koguryo) and Sui / T’ang Dynasty China. At about the same time Buddhism was introduced, and many temples were begun to be constructed in this region by newcome knowledge and technique. This new Buddhist culture, with enormous temple structures, was admirable enough for many peoples of that time.

 Thus Asuka progressively consolidated its functions as the administrative and cultural center. Consequently, the palace and temple sites, kofun (tumulus graves), and other man-made monuments are left behind in and around Asuka.

 Lines of hills surround Asuka, clamoring over and over as if protecting the palaces and temples. It is on the southern slope of south hills, that is behind Asuka, that many kofun had been constructed. These kofun are noteworthy for their elaborately constructed stone chamber with lateral entrance passage ways in which were burried imperial family or high-class officials who had played an active part on the historical stage in Asuka. This kind of kofun of the same period is also found in Kawachi-Asuka (河内飛鳥) region in ancient province of Kawachi, west of Mt. Nijo.

 The latest techniques and methods transmitted from the continent such as for the temple buildings, stoneworks or articrafts were applied by the tomb builders. Earlier stone chambers of the 5th century had been intended to be family tombs which could contain many interments and they spread into various parts of Japan. But new ones which were in the first place started to be built in Kawachi-Asuka region with quarried granite were for indivisual burial. Since the original type of this kind stone chamber is considered to be the former house-shaped stone coffin, it may well be called “coffin-style” stone chamber.

 Takamatsuzuka kofun has this type of stone chamber, whose interior walls and ceiling were elaborately plastered and on this white canvas human figures, shishin (four heavenly guardian gods) and seishuku (star charts) have been depicted in brilliant colour.

 Inside the chamber there used to be installed a dry lacquer coffin, outside of which is usually painted with black lacquer, on the contrary inside is with red. Lacquer work had been developed in Buddhist art, i.e. Buddhist statues. There were much varieties In base materials of coffin; wood, cloth, bascket or earthenware. They were sometimes adorned with gilt-bronze fittings. The dry lacquer coffin of Takamatsuzuka kofun was covered with gold foil which was almost taken off and only trace of it remained when it was excavated.

 It is not likely in the genealogy of relatively earlier stone chambers to lock the coffin. But in many cases these dry lacquer coffins were found accompanyed by some gilt-bronze flower-shaped fittings which seem to have been parts of locks. Containers in Shosoin Treasure and golden reliquary found at Sufukuji Temple site may reinforce that these might be locked. Among all, from Goryoyama kofun, lock itself and fittings attached have been excavated.

 He who were burried in Abuyama kofun had put his head on the pillow adorned with golden thread and glass beads. From Goboyama kofun, situated on the hill behind Horyuji Temple, an amber pillow was excavated. A hexagonal shaped cloisonne fitting found from Kegoshizuka kofun may also be considered as a pillow fitting.

 Swords are usually set alongside the fully dressed nobleman, but those have been rotten so that only some gilt-bronze or silver fittings remain. The sword recently excavated from Tsukamawari kofun looks like a lump of rust, but it is assured in the course of X-ray photography that it has an inlay of flying-dragon.

 On the reverse side of the iron mirror also recently excavated from Matsuyama kofun, it happens to appear an arabesque pattern of silver inlay in the process of taking off patina. T’ang Chinese mirrors whose reverse were worked in a so-called Kaiju-budo pattern (depicting sea-animals, birds, grapevines, etc.) also show superior workshop.

 Once it was the representation of the political prestage to put many mirrors into kofun as funerary goods. In Asuka period, mirrors became to be used for ritual purification of temple buildings or solemnity goods of pagoda. It seems to be related to Buddhist ceremonies to put mirrors into tombs, to lock coffins, and to accumulate mound in the way of alternating layers of clay and sand.

 According to Nihonshoki, Hakusorei (an order for limits on size of tombs) was proclaimed in the 2nd year of Taika (646 A.D.) in which the scale of mound and stone chamber were restricted in accordance with the class of burring person. It has not yet been proved archaeologically, but it is rather better to consider that the tendency toward reduction of kofun in scale had started already at the beginning of the 7th century. This may be testified by the evidence that the funerary objects became gradually more excellent.

 Burial method in the Asuka period is the fusion of the former funeral ceremony and newer Buddhist service and the latter gradually exceeded the former element. It represents a transitional stage. In this change we can admit diversity of kofun in this period.


昭和54年9月25日 発行